Midddletown First, a citizen’s group opposing sprawling development in the community of Middletown,Rhode Island, has helped pass a new zoning ordinance that levels the playing field with developers. The ordinance requires applicants to pay a fee, based on the nature of the project, to allow the town to hire independent experts to study the impact of their project. According to a report in the Newport Daily News on July 24th, at a meeting this past week, the Town Council unanimously approved a new development-impact review ordinance.
“My original intention,” explained Councilor Charles Vaillancourt, “was to provide some alternative for the residential communities that abut some of these major commercial developments in light of the fact most don’t have the ability to go out and hire lawyers and legal experts and all those tools you need to fight an unhealthy development.” The amendment is effective immediately. Local officials said projects already filed with the town will not be affected by the regulation changes. The two-page amendment requires developers needing a special-use permit and advisory report from the Planning Board or major
subdivisions – six lots or larger – to submit an impact statement about their project. That statement would cover the proposal’s impact on parking, traffic, municipal utilities and other town services, the physical and ecological characteristics of the work site and surrounding land and character of the community. The regulation change will allow the Planning Board to hire one or more consultants to evaluate the impact statement and report back with their findings, which can be considered as part of the application’s review. The cost of such investigations would be covered by assessing developers the following fees: An apartment, condominium, townhouse and other multifamily dwelling with more than two units: $100 per unit. A hotel, motel or inn: $150 per rental unit. A shopping center, retail, office, professional service, manufacturing or other commercial development: $100 per 1,000 square feet of floor space. A major subdivision of six or more lots: $500 for each proposed building lot. Middletown First member Gail Greenwood, whose grass-roots group opposed the new Middletown Square shopping center off West Main said the development plan review approved by the town does not go far enough.She said more money should be set aside for consultants based on Middletown First’s findings. The group spent more than $5,000 to hire a
traffic engineer, real estate appraiser and anti-development consultant to contest the new plaza at 1305 West Main Road, and several more experts still were needed. Greenwood said a rough calculation with the new fees indicated the town would have approximately $10,000 at its disposal to study the shopping center. “I think it’s a good start, but I’m wondering if it’s a little conservative on the money side,” Greenwood told the Newport Daily News. “It’s another layer of review of these
projects, which is wonderful.”
The Middletown ordinance is a helpful first step towards leveling the playing field, so that developers money does not overshadow a community’s chance to find out the truth about large scale developmentes. But the idea of a 135,000 s.f. Home Depot, for example, only putting up $13,500 is woefully inadequate. A developer could expect to pay ten times that amount on traffic, stormwater management, etc. on their own self-serving studies. Instead, they should pay for an independent set of studies that impartially tell a community what they really can expect. Middletown may find that they need to raise the study fees to $1,000 per retail square foot — but the new ordinance is a giant first step towards making these projects “come clean”. For more information on the new Middletown ordinance, contact Gail Greenwood at [email protected], or [email protected] The Middletown ordinance was based on other town ordinances provided to activists by sprawl-busters.